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RTDNA Also Asks Supreme Court to Televise ‘Obamacare’ Arguments

The RTDNA joined with C-SPAN in petitioning for live coverage.

A trade group representing the electronic news profession is also petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to allow cameras in the courtroom when it hears arguments in March 2012 over President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law.

The Radio, Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) joins with C-SPAN, the non-profit company that provides video coverage of Congress, federal agencies and national events, in requesting the Supreme Court to allow cameras in the courtroom when arguments are presented in the case involving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148).

On Nov. 14, the Supreme Court said it will hear arguments in the cases National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, No. 11-400, and it has reserved more than five hours on its docket for those arguments (most cases receive an hour for arugments).

The court has never allowed the arguments to be televised; rather it releases transcripts for every case and audio recordings of high-profile arguments. However, in a Nov. 15 letter to Chief Justice John Roberts C-SPAN says, “the court’s decision to schedule five-and-half hours of argument indicates the significance of this case. We ask that the court further reflect this particular case’s significance by supplementing your ‘end of the week audiocast’ policy with live TV coverage.”

In addition, on Nov. 16, RTDNA sent a letter to Roberts asking for the court “to provide pooled television and audio coverage of the oral arguments in this case.” The letter, which is signed by Kevin Benz, RTDNA’s chairman, says the case is an opportunity for the court to open up to cameras. “The Court’s ruling undoubtedly will shape the 2012 presidential campaign and most certainly will serve to define Congress’ ability to address national issues.” So “there is no better time than in anticipation of this watershed case for the Supreme Court justices to suspend the ban on cameras in the courtroom and to allow live electronic coverage of this and other proceedings of keen interest and import to the American public.”

By suspending the ban on television cameras, the court would open up its proceedings to the American public, the letter says. Currently, the number of people who witness the proceedings is limited to the number of people who can fit into the court, RTDNA says. “As this Court long has recognized, the physical space limitations of a particular courtroom and geographic and other limitations on the public’s ability to personally attend judicial proceedings validate the media’s claim that it acts as a surrogate for the public in providing access to those proceedings,” the letter says. “While both print and electronic media fulfill that important surrogate role, only the electronic media has the ability to provide the public with a close visual and aural approximation of actually witnessing judicial proceedings without physical attendance.”

The court would “provide unlimited seating to this historic event by permitting television coverage of the oral arguments,” RTDNA’s letter says.However, if television coverage is denied, the association asks the court to “permit real-time audio broadcast of the proceedings.”